Sunday, August 31, 2014

More Than Mourning

This is the 100th anniversary of the last known passenger pigeon.  That's her--Martha--who died in 1914.  It seems remote in history, but today in San Francisco a woman saw her first major league baseball game--she is nearly 108.  On her first day of school there were still passenger pigeons.

 The extinction of a species is in some ways a technical matter.  There are other pigeon species that probably share genes with the passenger pigeon.  But each species extinction lessens the genetic diversity that keep populations healthy, and these losses eventually lead to the disappearance of what we non-scientists would describe as types of animal or plant life.  Not just one kind of tiger, but tigers, something that's in the cards as effects of the climate crisis combine with the other human-causes of lethal poisons, industrial hunting and destroyed habitat and range.
Martha was a harbinger of a century of extinction that rivals any period in Terran history.  That we mourn these extinctions and have made the passenger pigeon their icon is (as Elizabeth Kolbert notes) relatively new outside of indigenous cultures, and laudable.  That scientists are trying to figure out how to revive Martha's breed is in itself interesting but suggests our all too prevalent techno-fix response, which demonstrates our ignorance as well as our feeling.  Far better would be to do the hard work of cleaning up our chemical act, and restoring habitat and range for existing species.

Because extinctions in the 21st century may well make the 20th look innocent.  All primates are threatened, a lot of large animals and a large number of bird species: some 1300 may go extinct, according to this National Geographic article, including the one pictured below, an African fish eagle.

Friday, August 29, 2014

A Sense of Urgency

A lot of precious time has been wasted before addressing the climate crisis--so much that the crisis was not averted, it's here, though just beginning.   For awhile the science wasn't exact enough for a scientific consensus as exists today, though reasonable political leaders might have erred on the side of taking even the likelihood of a climate crisis seriously enough to act.  In the past decade or more the science has been overwhelming, but oppositional politics and media took hold, with decreasing relevance to the facts and the issue.

So today the Republican party is in lockstep opposition to any acknowledgement  let alone action on the climate crisis.  That partisan political stance means for one thing that a formal international treaty on mutual actions to address the climate crisis would almost certainly fail to achieve the 67 votes in the U.S. Senate required by the Constitution to ratify it and make it law.

Other countries also have their own political problems in achieving such a treaty.  Now it turns out that negotiations are well underway for an international agreement next year that will not require a Senate vote.  The agreement would be in part based on existing treaties, and in part on voluntary compliance via "name and shame."  The NY Times:    

"Countries would be legally required to enact domestic climate change policies — but would voluntarily pledge to specific levels of emissions cuts and to channel money to poor countries to help them adapt to climate change. Countries might then be legally obligated to report their progress toward meeting those pledges at meetings held to identify those nations that did not meet their cuts."

Jonathan Chiat has a very good column on the rationale for this effort--mostly that the dimensions of the crisis require taking the risk.  The problems are too serious and coming too quickly to dither anymore.  With the usual steps forward and back, an international sense of urgency nevertheless is growing.

  The US politics however are pretty interesting.  There's reporting that many congressional Republicans know there's a crisis that has to be addressed but politically can't afford to recognize it, lest they be primaried by the zealots they've been nurturing. Chiat observes: "Given the seriousness and urgency — you can’t un-melt a glacier — the broad way to think about climate politics is that Republicans have ceded the field completely."

There's also the question of the effectiveness of "voluntary" compliance, although there is really no third party way to enforce a treaty anyway.  Much of what needs to be done relies on trust, and some key observers believe that past guidelines have resulted in progress.  Chiat:

"Center for American Progress fellow Peter Ogden, the former White House National Security staff director for climate change and environmental policy, points out in Foreign Affairs that the Copenhagen summit, which failed to produce a binding treaty, “was actually a turning point in international climate talks,” and has produced significant carbon reductions."

Key to such an agreement working are the carbon regulations that the Obama administration has begun. With a rapidly growing clean energy sector, these will begin to change the game.  Chiat concludes:

"If the regulations actually deliver, encouraging the market to find inexpensive ways to switch to cleaner fuels, and to save money through conservation, then the incentive to revert back to unregulated carbon emissions will be small. Doing so might even impose new costs on businesses that had adjusted to Obama’s regulations.

If the Republican warnings prove true — if compliance costs run beyond projections, if foreign countries refuse to cooperate, if the Earth does not continue to warm, if Americans are shivering in the dark, then there will be opportunities for them to win elections and go back to dumping carbon into the atmosphere for free. The risks on the opposite side dwarf those possibilities."

Thursday, August 28, 2014

A Scandal of Tweets

A scandal of tweets (that's like a gaggle of geese) erupted in response to the President's statement and press conference Thursday, not because of any of his statements or answers that carefully explained current US policy and mapped out future plans and possibilities vis a vis ISIS/ISIL, Russia and the Ukraine, the economy and immigration.   Because he wore a light brown suit!

What a scandal!

Race in your Face

John Crawford
It's not even an irony anyone mentions anymore, that America's elder statesman of truth-telling journalism is the host of a fake news show on the Comedy Channel.  But Jon Stewart tells the truth about race in America and its relationship to Ferguson in this recent segment.

We went through a few decades in which race wasn't part of the public conversation, leading a lot of white Americans to believe that racial discrimination no longer exists.  These years were primarily during Republican administrations.  Now there is not only a Democrat in the White House, but an African American, and racism is way out of the closet.  Some white people are shaken and shocked, while others are overflowing with resentment.  Still others--the most blatant racists--are liberated.

The "there is no racism" mantra of right wing zealots obscures and therefore makes possible the most blatant outrages.  The Ferguson killing is just one.  John Crawford, a young black man, was shot on sight in a Wal-Mart in the act of shopping while black.  A video confirms that he got no warning, although he was merely fingering a toy gun while talking on his cell phone.

Jeremy Lake
In Oklahoma an off-duty white cop shot and killed Jeremy Lake, a young black man, as he was introducing himself.  His crime was dating the cop's daughter.  His daughter witnessed the shooting and confirms that there was no argument beforehand.

The blatant and all non-white encompassing racism expressed by that now-suspended Missouri cop ("I'm into diversity. I kill everybody, I don't care"), even invoking his Christian religion ("I personally believe in Jesus Christ as my lord savior, but I'm also a killer") with no recognition of the contradiction (that the historical Jesus was not white and therefore on his firing line is the least of the ironies), is the most extreme--yet this man has political and media defenders.

It is the daily racism that escapes the notice of most whites.  After providing a few examples, Jon Stewart concluded:"Race is there, and it is a constant," Stewart said. "You're tired of hearing about it? Imagine how f*cking exhausting it is living it."

Everyone begins with bias.  But almost everyone has suffered from it to some extent.  There's tons of evidence of bias regarding something as non-visual and abstract yet of vital importance as evaluating job resumes.  The evidence shows class bias, bias against women, against non-white names, or "funny names," i.e. foreign-sounding.  I grew up with bias against my "long" Polish last name, my Italian heritage, my working class origins.  Even with the advantages of being a white male.

One crucial point is imagination.  Having felt some element of bias, can you not imagine how it would be for others?  Another point is knowing the limitations of your own experience.  Why assume that when people of color recount frequent if not constant racism, that they aren't telling the truth?  Their experience is not your experience, and the only way you can understand what they're saying is to listen to them, realize they know more about it than you do.  We'd feel better if it wasn't true, it's not pleasant to hear it, but "imagine how fucking exhausting it is living it."

But some white people, despite their pious claims of racial neutrality, know about bias.  They just don't want to be the victims of it.  With more non-whites in positions of power, they theorize, they will be (or are) victims of bias. They interpret the lack of bias in their favor as bias against them, in employment for example.  They feel threatened by prospective lack of preferential treatment, though they're unlikely to put it that way.

There are of course people of all colors and genders who abuse their power, and there are people of all colors who cynically use the most convenient excuse to the point of lying about it.  Efforts to compensate for past bias by deliberately hiring non-whites or women, for example, do result in individual losses.  (I've been told I lost jobs that way. But how many other opportunities have I had because I'm a white male?) None of that contradicts the pervasive existence of racism in America.  Our future depends on dealing with it.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Climate in Crisis

Criticized by outsiders for minimizing the dangers and soft-peddling the effects of the climate crisis, and charged from within the climate scientist community for censoring and watering down prior reports, a new UN climate panel draft report is said to be stark and uncompromising.  At least for now.

According to the New York Times:

"Runaway growth in the emission of greenhouse gases is swamping all political efforts to deal with the problem, raising the risk of “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts” over the coming decades, according to a draft of a major new United Nations report.

Global warming is already cutting grain production by several percentage points, the report found, and that could grow much worse if emissions continue unchecked. Higher seas, devastating heat waves, torrential rain and other climate extremes are also being felt around the world as a result of human-produced emissions, the draft report said, and those problems are likely to intensify unless the gases are brought under control."

Quoting the report directly:“Human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global water cycle, in reduction in snow and ice, and in global mean-sea-level rise; and it is extremely likely to have been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century,” the draft report said. “The risk of abrupt and irreversible change increases as the magnitude of the warming increases.”

The Times story notes that this report, meant to be a summary of previous reports, is not official until November, and will go through the diplomatic process that has resulted in less definite language in the past.  But, the Times notes:

Using blunter, more forceful language than the reports that underpin it, the new draft highlights the urgency of the risks that are likely to be intensified by continued emissions of heat-trapping gases, primarily carbon dioxide released by the burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas...It cited rising political efforts around the world on climate change, including efforts to limit emissions as well as to adapt to changes that have become inevitable. But the report found that these efforts were being overwhelmed by construction of facilities like new coal-burning power plants that will lock in high emissions for decades."

More conclusions:

"The new report found that it was still technically possible to limit global warming to an internationally agreed upper bound of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, or 2 degrees Celsius, above the preindustrial level. But continued political delays for another decade or two will make that unachievable without severe economic disruption, the report said."

"The draft report found that past emissions, and the failure to heed scientific warnings about the risks, have made large-scale climatic shifts inevitable. But lowering emissions would still slow the expected pace of change, the report said, providing critical decades for human society and the natural world to adapt.

“Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems,” the report said.

The report noted that severe weather events, some of them linked to human-produced emissions, had disrupted the food supply in recent years, leading to several spikes in the prices of staple grains and destabilizing some governments in poorer countries.

Continued warming, the report found, is likely to “slow down economic growth, make poverty reduction more difficult, further erode food security, and prolong existing poverty traps and create new ones, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hot spots of hunger.”

None of this is new to most scientists, scholars, activists and reporters who have followed the subject.  So the UN panel is hardly alone in these conclusions.  Others buttress and extend them.  For instance, the Sydney Morning Herald reports on  at a conference in Australia: "The world is headed "down a dangerous path" with disruption of the food system possible within a decade as climate change undermines nations' ability to feed themselves, according to a senior World Bank official..."Unless we chart a new course, we will find ourselves staring volatility and disruption in the food system in the face, not in 2050, not in 2040, but potentially within the next decade," she said, according to her prepared speech.'

Meat and diary prices are already rising in the US due primarily to drought, but so far within the comfort level of most Americans.  There's little prospect of a reversal and it's more likely that prices will continue to climb.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

That Old Time Religion

This week's New Yorker cover painting.  The hands up (don't shoot) gesture has become the signature of the Ferguson protests, there and elsewhere.  It accompanies Jelani Cobb's latest report.   Meanwhile, the Ferguson police department is under intense scrutiny, and a police officer who had been on duty during the demonstrations has been suspended after a long racist rant which reportedly included: "I'm into diversity. I kill everybody, I don't care...I personally believe in Jesus Christ as my lord savior, but I'm also a killer. I’ve killed a lot. And if I need to, I'll kill a whole bunch more. If you don't want to get killed, don't show up in front of me, it's that simple."

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Flame Still Burns

The second great song from "Still Crazy."  Not the best picture but the sound is good.  Think of the lyrics as this Monday's substitute for the Dreaming Up Daily Weekly Quote.
Just a note for the possibly concerned: the 6.0 Napa earthquake that hit early Sunday morning was considerably south of the North Coast, so we're fine.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Changing Climate?

It used to be called The Great Turning, the Turning Point.  Now it's The Swerve.  It is a definitive move towards addressing the climate crisis and the many complex questions that ensue, about how economics and politics are done, and how we factor and weigh the environment in the ordinary equation of public and private action.  Some prominent voices on the subject have been predicting it and waiting for it for years, even decades.

Is it happening now?  Robert Jay Lifton believe so, and says so in a New York Times opinion piece:

"AMERICANS appear to be undergoing a significant psychological shift in our relation to global warming. I call this shift a climate “swerve,” borrowing the term used recently by the Harvard humanities professor Stephen Greenblatt to describe a major historical change in consciousness that is neither predictable nor orderly...Experience, economics and ethics are coalescing in new and important ways."

Why now?  Polls and attitude studies, Lifton writes, confirm that experience with catastrophic and traumatic effects is a big factor:

"The experiential part has to do with a drumbeat of climate-related disasters around the world, all actively reported by the news media: hurricanes and tornadoes, droughts and wildfires, extreme heat waves and equally extreme cold, rising sea levels and floods. Even when people have doubts about the causal relationship of global warming to these episodes, they cannot help being psychologically affected. Of great importance is the growing recognition that the danger encompasses the entire earth and its inhabitants. We are all vulnerable."

People no longer have to imagine what the effects of the climate crisis might be--at least, some of the less complex effects, obvious in discrete events:

"The most important experiential change has to do with global warming and time. Responding to the climate threat — in contrast to the nuclear threat, whose immediate and grotesque destructiveness was recorded in Hiroshima and Nagasaki — has been inhibited by the difficulty of imagining catastrophic future events. But climate-related disasters and intense media images are hitting us now, and providing partial models for a devastating climate future."

Lifton moves on to economics, where the awareness is dawning that all the theoretical financial assets represented by fossil fuels still to be unearthed are likely to remain "stranded" because of their deathly danger to the planet.

"In contrast, renewable energy sources, which only recently have achieved the status of big business, are taking on increasing value, in terms of returns for investors, long-term energy savings and relative harmlessness to surrounding communities...In a world fueled by oil and coal, it is a truly stunning event when investors are warned that the market may end up devaluing those assets. We are beginning to see a bandwagon effect in which the overall viability of fossil-fuel economics is being questioned."

Lifton sees the economics entwined with ethics.  Climate crisis effects begin to tip the balance against the free market values of extracting the fossil fuels that will end up destroying civilization.  People who insist on their predominance may be stuck with "stranded ethics."

Lifton, whose recent work involves comparing the climate crisis with the nuclear weapons threat concludes: "I have come to the realization that it is very difficult to endanger or kill large numbers of people except with a claim to virtue."

Lifton believes that increasing awareness provides the base support and also the energy and participation for a social movement to address the climate crisis.  He recalls the "nuclear freeze" movement of the 90s, and suggests a galvanizing phrase might be a "climate freeze."  I don't see that one working, but the first test of an emerging movement is coming up: The People's Climate March is scheduled for September 21 in New York City.  An impressive roster of organizations is involved, and the schedule includes a number of preliminary events.  Organizers are calling for the largest mass demonstration on behalf of the climate in US history, with global reach, since the march ends at the United Nations.

These preparations are underway as the climate news of the week was the conclusion of a study that posits that the slower than expected rise in global temperature is due to 30 year currents in the Atlantic Ocean that is driving heat into the deep ocean.  Other theories involved heat trapped in the ocean depths, but this suggests the mechanics of it.

  If it is true, the authors suggest, the current slow rise may continue until 2025 or so, even though carbon dioxide is being added to the atmosphere at an historically high rate.  This is both beneficial and dangerous.  It is beneficial in that it provides some time to start addressing causes and dealing with effects, with less climate-caused chaos than would otherwise exist.  It's dangerous if it leads to complacency, to any sense that it's not going to happen, or it's not going to be so bad after all. For when the ocean currents change, that heat will be released while new heat won't disappear into the ocean depths.  So temperatures will rise rapidly.

It's important to note that even with temperatures rising more slowly than they should be, the effects of global heating are increasing.  Deeper drought, more frequent fierce storms, fires, mudslides, etc.  In fact, as if to buttress Lipton's comparison of the climate crisis to nuclear weapons, last week a climate related disaster  happened when torrential rains led to landslides that killed as many as 100 and forced the evacuation of 100,000--in Hiroshima, which earlier this month marked the 69th anniversary of the city devastated by the first atomic bomb dropped on a populated place.  All the photos with this post are from there, not 69 years ago, but this past week.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

US Champs

Congratulations to Chicago's Jackie Robinson West, the Illinois/Great Lakes Region team, now the US Little League World Series champs.  They play South Korea for the world title.

It's been fun and inspiring to watch some of this year's Little League WS.  This all-black team of inner city Chicago kids that has their city rooting them on in watch parties across Chicago, as well as the Girl of Summer, Mo'ne Davis, are the prominent stories.  But for all the attention (and the incredible mental and well as physical baseball skills of Davis, for instance) this is still Little League.  Kids get scared and upset when they screw up, they cry when they lose.  Their emotions are part of the game.  But it does seem that coaches and officials take a lot of care to recognize they are kids and respond to their needs.

All Over the World Tonight

This 1998 film about a 70s glam rock band getting back together somehow passed me by at the time, but better late than never.  In the story, this is the song that shows the band has turned around and is ready.  I found the movie because of Bill Nighy, and his performance as the lead singer on this song (and that's him singing) is wonderful in itself.  The picture is pretty good--not as good full screen as the film--but the sound is excellent.  Turn it up! It's one of the two great songs in the movie, and it's perfect for Dreaming Up Daily, and to kick off the weekend.

P.S. I've also added a "music video" label.  Click on that to access some tunes of yesteryear, including all those Obama campaign songs of 2008.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

portrait of Churchill Dec. 1941 by Yousuf Karsh
"You do your worst and we will do our best.”

Winston Churchill in December 1941, speaking of the Axis powers soon after Pearl Harbor, to the U.S. Congress.


President Obama's statement yesterday on the murder of American journalist James Foley rightly characterized the ISIL terrorists as extremist murderers and torturers with no legitimate place in civilized society.  President Obama is able to make this charge credibly precisely because he has been so nuanced in his statements and policies, especially regarding Islamic peoples.

Not everybody is so precise or accurate.  The haters who aim the energy of their racial and religious prejudices are all too ready to make blanket accusations.  Some of this is the worst kind of politics, reviving the racial ignorance that goes immediately to a non-white against white scenario (which is also at work in reactions to events in Missouri.)  Neil Steinberg's column is a must-read on this topic (including his brilliantly selected and appropriate Winston Churchill quotes.)  

This murder has focused attention on ISIS/ISIL.  It's identity is emerging as a kind of terrorist cult-- a lot like the Kymer Rouge in Cambodia--but not limited to people from one country or of one race.  Learning about this entity will help to formulate responses.

But in the aftermath of this horrific murder, this is a dangerous time.  Already extreme voices and political opportunists are whipping up war fever and xenophobic hysteria.

We don't need bluster, and we can all be grateful that Cheney and Co. are not in the White House at this moment.  We don't need Hillary Clinton's bluster either, of the kind she expressed in her Atlantic interview.  We need accuracy and strategy, and a renewed commitment to the best aspects of our civilization.

Update: More on strategy--and the fever--in this Guardian report.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

America 2014

What's going on?  In America 2014.  Violent responses may be the work of a few outsiders, and the precipitating act--a police shooting and killing of an unarmed young black man in broad daylight--is still the focal point, but more is happening and more is being exposed in Ferguson, Missouri. Race is central to what is happening. While many whites presumed the higher visibility of blacks in the media, in the professions and the workplace meant that racism was over, its effects have continued.  Racial injustice and the need for justice on many fronts, and the politics of race (and the racism of politics) are all coming to the fore.

The militarization of police is not just about hardware.  The scene above--heavily armed men in combat gear pointing deadly firearms that appear to be military (perhaps semi-automatics or automatics)-- at unarmed civilians on a public street in an American town was seldom if ever seen during the Civil Rights movement or huge anti-war demonstrations.  It's something that US soldiers in Afghanistan or Iraq seldom if ever did.  It tells a story about the shocking place we are in 2014.  Wherever that place is, it's not America, not for long.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Girl of Summer

Mo'ne Davis, who Friday became the first female pitcher to win a Little League World Series game with a complete game 2-hit gem, helped Philadelphia' Mid-Atlantic Region champs win over Texas on Sunday with an RBI single in a come from behind thriller.  She'll pitch again Wednesday against Las Vegas.

Friday, August 15, 2014

News Week: Lows and Highs

The news quite often causes us to wonder just how low human beings can go, and how insane elements of our culture can become.  "Curiosity" about these is likely a big reason the internet is what it is these days.  I'm not generally in sympathy with this obsession for the darkest and most bizarre to tweet and tsk tsk about.  And as farcical as it gets, I don't look for my laughs there either.

But sometimes such evidence is unavoidable, as in the aftermath of the death by suicide of Robin Williams.  Based on very early reporting, the internet and its established news sites (including those associated with long established if now desperate print publications) were flooded with analyses and especially first person comparisons, opinions, etc. of all kinds.  All based, as it turned out but not surprisingly, on incomplete information.  Thursday his wife revealed that he had known he was in the early stages of Parkinson's Disease, of which depression is a common symptom.

But the usual range of opportunism and self-aggrandizement (along with sincere remembrances) were utterly innocent in comparison with the hateful and hate-filled comments by rabid right extremists, including so-called leaders and so-called Christians.  I won't dignify their repulsive and cynical and corrupt commentary by repeating any of it or identifying any of them, especially since their primary goal is to get named.

On top of this, the tendency of internet sites and social media to attract those most twisted with hate, ego and myriad delusions, culminating in one of Robin Williams' daughters being so bullied and abused that she quit all of her social media accounts.

Yet the news also provides us with contrasts, which may be straws to grasp but definitely are loci of hope.  This past week provided at least these:

The Fields Medal, widely regarded as the equivalent of a Nobel Prize for mathematics, was won for the first time in history by a woman:  Maryam Mirzakhani, a Stanford University professor who was born in Iran.  Her work is called boldly original and it appears to cross boundaries between traditional mathematical disciplines.  To somebody who couldn't understand trig, it sounds as if it can be significant beyond academic math.

The victory of course is as well for all the women who were told, and all the girls who still are told one way or another, that girls aren't good at math, it's for males only.  For them this is the academic equivalent of  Lisa Leslie's first WNBA slam dunk.  And that's before the significance of her work itself can be evaluated in the future.

Then there's the Little League World Series, and the victory of Jackie Robinson West of Chicago in their first game, sparked by three--count 'em, three--home runs (plus a triple) by leadoff batter Pierce Jones.  Representing Great Lakes Region as the Illinois state champs, Jackie Robinson West from the South Side of Chicago is the first all-black team to make it to the LLWS in "over a decade" (according to this ESPN report) and the first Chicago team since the 80s.  The team is part of the league's urban initiative program begun 15 years ago.  

Best of all perhaps, they are the toast of Chicago.  The Jackie Robinson West team doesn't know, said their coach, how big they are back in Chicago.  Another ESPN piece quotes: Gabe Bump, fiction writer and Chicago resident, said of this JRW run for the right to do something seldom seen by any Little League team from Chicago, "It's important because they are the kids Chicago wants to forget about. These are the kids that get their schools closed. I'm rooting for them because they're South Side kids, but it's much more to it than that."

The story concludes: "here's almost a feeling that what is happening now has nothing to do with sports. It's something much bigger. At least, that's the way it is being taken in; that is how it is being embraced. Basically, calling this a feel-good story is underselling the true nature of the weight this story carries at this moment."

Update: On the second day of the Little League World Series, Pennsylvania team pitcher Mo'Ne Davis threw a two-hitter to become the first female pitcher to win a LLWS game.  She's also black.  Apart from the extra-sports significance, these stories are big deals for baseball because the proportion of African American MLB players has been diminishing.  

Thursday, August 14, 2014

An American Tragedy

It's an American tragedy specifically because race is at its center, and despite everything from good faith efforts through wistful hope to obvious denial and political opportunism, it's wearily the same American tragedy it's been for centuries, just the latest chapter.

The events in Missouri began with a police officer shooting down an unarmed teenager in broad daylight.  This--but I strongly suspect not this alone--led to protests, then looting and vandalism, then more protests, and then several nights of police actions that have been widely criticized.

A reporter who witnessed the fourth night of protests wrote:

"What transpired in the streets appeared to be a kind of municipal version of shock and awe; the first wave of flash grenades and tear gas had played as a prelude to the appearance of an unusually large armored vehicle, carrying a military-style rifle mounted on a tripod. The message of all of this was something beyond the mere maintenance of law and order: it’s difficult to imagine how armored officers with what looked like a mobile military sniper’s nest could quell the anxieties of a community outraged by allegations regarding the excessive use of force. It revealed itself as a raw matter of public intimidation."

The events in Missouri brought focus to the increasingly "militarization" of US police forces, the willing dump for the Pentagon's surplus weapons designed for combat and antiterrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan. Thursday the governor of Missouri ordered the state police to take charge, and its commanding officer (black and who grew up in this town) seemed to have calmed things down.

But the racial element of the shooting is the true focus (though this militarization is obviously part of it, as non-whites--especially black and brown people-- are treated as the equivalent of foreign enemies and terrorists in their own cities.)  Writing about the killing of Michael Brown that precipitated the Missouri protests, Amy Davidson in the New Yorker:

"Michael Brown was black and tall; was it his body that the police officer thought was dangerous enough? Perhaps it was enough for the officer that he lived on a certain block in a certain neighborhood; shooting down the street, after all, exhibits a certain lack of concern about anyone else who might be walking by. That sort of calculus raises questions about an entire community’s rights. One way or the other, this happens too often to young men who look like Brown, or like Trayvon Martin, or, as President Obama once put it, like a son he might have had."

These incidents are deeply related to the white gun culture.  This Daily Kos diary makes this point while contrasting two situations of the previous week: of a white young man openly carrying a loaded shotgun on a public street, refusing to relinquish it to police officers without penalty, and a young black man who was toying with a toy gun in a Walmart toy section while talking on his cell to his girlfriend, and was shot down and killed by police.

In an internet culture keyed to oddity, the Walmart story went viral for awhile, soon replaced by next "bizarre" tweet-worthy photo or tale.  But many black people take greater note of such a happening, and they do not forget so quickly.

Racism is alive on American streets and endangers us all.

(Top photo is from the New York Times.)

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Big Dry

It's not just the brown grass in the front yard, or the brown fields along 101 that look more like southern California or the Bay area than our far northern California home.  It's the latest stats: the US Drought Monitor has placed us in the Exceptional Drought category, the highest possible. (It's marked in the darkest color on the map.)

The entire state of California has been in some category of drought conditions for awhile.  But as recently as January, no part of the state was in the Exceptional Drought category.  Now 58% of the state is, including almost all of the coast.

Update: Drought and climate change threaten our redwoods, and the big trees in general, which a scientist says could be completely gone in a century.

The latest reports and scientific speculation on El Nino (that it is less likely to be the strong one that often brings rain to California, and it is less likely to occur at all) was the top story on the local newspaper front page, along with predictions for a dry winter.

Meanwhile there are so many fires--10 in northern California, to the north, east and south of us, as well as in Oregon--that our skies have a hint of red.

Water policy has become a statewide concern, reflected in the state legislatures.  After the Brown administration resisted restrictions on water-wasting fracking, some sites are being shut down for fear of contaminating aquifers.

 Cities are adding personnel to police water use restrictions that went into effect statewide on August 1. And in yet another dubious use of new technology, if you want to report your neighbor for wasting water--there's an app for that.

 In a more positive response, municipalities are becoming more interested in water purification, especially since in many cases the purification and reuse of waste water costs less than desalinization or even purchasing water from remote locations.

In the short term California tends to be more extremist than some other places, so water consciousness and conflicts are going to ramp up quickly.  But in the long term, changes that have long been discussed will need to be really considered, and the best of them implemented.  Extraordinary drought doesn't look like it will end soon, and in any case the climate crisis is going to make dry cycles and "normal" times dryer in most places for the foreseeable future.  If we held out hopes up here in the far northern coast of the state that our unique climate would be immune, it's clear now that it isn't.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Climate Vs. Distraction

The politics of distraction has been markedly successful for reactionary forces.  Distort, distract and refocus the debate on outrageous distortions that make something as conservative as Obamacare seem radical, and debate on the deeper and more meaningful changes in the dysfunctional US healthcare system ends--with the insurance companies still in charge.

The politics of distraction has been particularly successful on the climate crisis.  While it was something that was happening but would manifest its damaging effects on humanity in the future, the necessary debate on what to do about it was sidelined by the raging and outrageous phony debate on whether it was real.

But now the effects are showing up in the present, and denialists are beginning to sound like those tobacco companies hacks and stooges who were still claiming in the 1990s that the science was uncertain about the harmful effects of tobacco smoking.

It may be that the virilence of their denials is in inverse proportion to the weaknesses of their arguments.  In any case, the political efforts to deny the climate crisis--and especially deny responsibility for changes necessary to forestall it getting worse in the future that the present can still affect--is massive.

These efforts seem to be centered on creating a political atmosphere that enables corporations to protect their current activities and profits.  The political windbags and the relentless denialists on the Internet are the stormtroopers.  Their job is to distract and keep the debate as crazy as possible, and stuck on the fundamental denialist issues.  The actual battles are being waged in legislatures.  The Republicans in the US Congress effectively hold Congress hostage.  But there are pitched battles in state legislatures.

Take a very recent effect of the climate crisis out of the many in the news this month: the half a million people in Ohio who couldn't drink their water because of algae building up in Lake Erie.  The causes form a perfect storm we're going to see again and again--environmental malfeasance by big corporations (principally agribusinesses using high phosphate fertilizers) with consequences also caused by the climate crisis (principally more rain and heat in the affected area.)  It was, salon said, a manmade disaster.

Moreover, Scientific American said in its headlines:Lake Erie Algae Bloom Matches Climate Change Projections/ The bloom that poisoned Toledo's waters may become more common as the waters of the Great Lakes warm.

Connections to big corporate efforts to bully state legislatures are made in this brilliant Guardian column by Ana Marie Cox.  Although the Republican governor of Ohio signed fairly weak legislation that at least recognized the problem of phosphates in fertilizer runoff,  Cox notes:

In Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker “eased” the deadlines for polluters in the state to meet the previous administration’s numerical standards for the amount of phosphorous allowed in public waters (he tried to replace the numeric standards with a “narrative description” of reduction efforts, but wasn’t successful). In Tea Partying Florida, the Republican state legislature sought to overturn locally-enacted bans on phosphorus fertilizer – an effort pushed by a Scotts Miracle-Gro lobbyist who texted a representative, “I am begging for your help here.”

Cox also found counterexamples: "purple" and "red" states that are addressing the phosphate issue, because their citizens don't take kindly to the prospect of not having water to drink.  She suggests that Republicans have the opportunity now to change their current extreme opposition to anything that smacks of doing the environment any good.

But this change into extreme anti-environmentalism (the EPA after all was established in the Nixon administration) took some years and will resist, at least until very powerful corporations start turning themselves around.  Agribusiness may be the last except for the fossil fuel behemoths, that are busy buying up state governments all over the country to enable fracking and other extreme measures that keep them rolling in the megabucks in the fossil fuel business.

For the American citizenry as a whole, which polls show is already alarmed by the climate crisis, the political effects will likely come in the form of demanding that government deals with the effects of the climate crisis on their lives.  So far there hasn't been the division between dealing with causes and dealing with effects that I've feared, but it's always possible.  For now, it seems that support for dealing with effects (including banning phosphate fertilizers) may well translate into support for dealing with causes (reducing greenhouse gases.)

So we're doing it the hard way, by suffering the effects that cannot be forestalled because we didn't deal with causes earlier.  But it's getting harder to be distracted. The climate crisis is all around us.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Nukes Remain a Present Danger

Viewing the news of the past week or so--let's face it, any week but especially recently--it's easy to lose any faith in human civilization and its ability to avoid killing itself.  We have one big victory to remember, which is that we managed to avoid nuclear holocaust in the decades of its greatest danger, and nations engaged in successful treaties to reduce the number of nuclear weapons, and their hair-trigger status.

But the nuclear threat is not consigned to history.  It is still here.  And in some ways the dangers have increased. A generation or two have grown up without the nuclear threat being prominently mentioned, believing it to be historical, not present, and often not understanding the great difference between bombs and thermonuclear bombs.  Admittedly, non-nuclear bombs have grown in destructive power, but there are still very much less devastating in their total effects.  This is true of the so-called tactical or smaller nuclear weapons.  They are of a different order.

This unfamiliarity may make things more dangerous.  Treaties have slowed the spread of nuclear weapons, but such weapons still exist and are still spreading.    Chances would seem to increase that one will be used.  The lack of live alarm about nuclear weapons probably made it easier both for Russia to violate a nuclear arms treaty (while suggesting it might withdraw from the treaty completely) and for the media to treat the U.S. charge that this happened as a fairly minor one day story.

There are fewer nuclear weapons actively pointed at targets in the U.S. or the former Soviet Union now, but that's not the same as none.  Some believe the chances of accidental launch are even greater today.  We're also learning how many times we came very close to ending the known world in a few hours, or of a horrible accident that would have wiped out millions and contaminated areas the size of US states.

Eric Schlosser's book on the many brushes with apocalypse we had and didn't know it is brilliantly reviewed by the great Louis Menand in the New Yorker.  He passes on a sampling of the incidents, which includes one as recent as 1995, in which Russian president Boris Yeltsin had minutes to decide whether to trigger a nuclear retaliation for what the military were certain was an incoming missile attack.  It wasn't, it was a weather satellite launched from Norway, which the Russians had been notified about but that information didn't get to the right people.  This was only one of many such incidents.

There's been news about poor training and dangerous sloppiness recently in  US missile launching facilities.  There have been revelations about how sloppy and inept the systems were and perhaps still are in the UK and how dangerous the launch system may have been in Russia and still may be.

Out of sight and out of mind does not mean out of the range of possibilities.  Doctor Strangelove is not dead.  President Obama made progress towards new treaties with the goal of a nuclear-free world.  We aren't there yet, and we may be going backwards instead.

Those of us who lived through the Cold War may find our thoughts turning to the reality of nuclear weapons in August, the month in 1945 that two atomic bombs dropped on cities in Japan.  So far they are the only two nuclear bombs to be used as weapons.  That's almost amazing.  But it's hardly a guarantee they will be the last, especially as the memory fades, and as new generations have little knowledge of the dimensions of this threat.

So any millennials who somehow stumbled onto this post, go back and google nuclear war and nuclear weapons.  The threats are not just in the past.  They are in your world and your future.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Choice

Voters are offered a stark choice in November, and that was dramatized once again on Wednesday, as the Republican House voted to sue President Obama for administrative decisions regarding the Affordable Care Act, and Obama was speaking in Kansas City about the range of real issues facing most Americans:

  "Look, we’ve got just today and tomorrow until Congress leaves town for a month. And we’ve still got some serious work to do. We’ve still got a chance to -- we got to put people to work rebuilding roads and bridges. And the Highway Trust Fund is running out of money; we got to get that done. We’ve got to get some resources to fight wildfires out West. That’s a serious situation. We need more resources to deal with the situation in the southern part of the border with some of those kids. We got to be able to deal with that in a proper way.

 (Applause.) So there’s a bunch of stuff that needs to get done. Unfortunately, I think the main vote -- correct me if I’m wrong here, Congressman -- the main vote that they’ve scheduled for today is whether or not they decide to sue me for doing my job... But think about this -- they have announced that they’re going to sue me for taking executive actions to help people. So they’re mad because I’m doing my job. And, by the way, I’ve told them -- I said, I’d be happy to do it with you. So the only reason I’m doing it on my own is because you don’t do anything. (Applause.) But if you want, let’s work together. 

I mean, everybody recognizes this is a political stunt, but it’s worse than that, because every vote they’re taking like that means a vote they’re not taking to actually help you. When they have taken 50 votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act, that was time that could have been spent working constructively to help you on some things. (Applause.) And, by the way, you know who is paying for this suit they’re going to file? You."

"So some of the things we’re doing without Congress are making a difference, but we could do so much more if Congress would just come on and help out a little bit. (Applause.) Just come on. Come on and help out a little bit. Stop being mad all the time. (Applause.) Stop just hating all the time. Come on. (Applause.) Let’s get some work done together. (Applause.)..."

"And that’s what sometimes Washington forgets. Your lives and what you’re going through day to day -- the struggles, but also the opportunities and the hopes and the good things, but sometimes the rough things that happen -- that’s more important than some of the phony scandals or the fleeting stories that you see.  
This is the challenge of our time -- how do we make sure we’ve got an economy that is working for everybody? Now, all of you are doing your part to help bring America back. You’re doing your job. Imagine how much further along we’d be, how much stronger our economy would be, if Congress was doing its job, too. (Applause.) We’d be doing great."

All the pundits talking to each other in Washington who think the Democrats don't have a potentially winning message in 2014 might think again.

(All photos: Kansas City Star)

Sunday, July 27, 2014

as July ends

     BK photo.  Click image for full photo.

On the threshold of August, summer fires in California.  One just north of here in Six Rivers National Forest halted traffic on the main road to there for a day or so but was expected to be contained by Monday.  Two larger fires are burning to our south: in the Sacramento area and near Yosemite.  As elsewhere, they are burning hotter and faster because of drought-dried vegetation.

With requests to voluntarily cut back on water use apparently ineffective, California will begin mandatory restrictions on home water use on August 1.  The announced guidelines are fairly limited (don't water down your driveway etc.) but each municipality is supposed to develop its own rules.  We haven't been notified of ours yet.

So here on the North Coast, where some maps show the least effect predicted from the climate crisis of anywhere in the states, we're still looking at possibly big effects of small changes.  Though not yet part of the media buzz, there's knowledgeable talk of a rodent population explosion, along with some insects, possibly due to the mild winter.

By the National Weather Service stats, we've have above normal temps (2-3F) and below average precip (which usually isn't much) for June and July.  I don't have stats on pollen but we're really feeling it more, so I assume it's been consistently higher, a consequence of both those weather factors.  So hay fever symptoms are more on than off this summer.

So far our summer crops still seem abundant.  We're enjoying the high season for strawberries right at the moment, mostly from the hotter areas to the east.  It's possible to grow tomatoes in Arcata now, though we have only one plant with just a few baby tomatoes.  But the smell of the tomato vine on my fingers reminds me of August in PA, when the tomato and pepper crops were coming in, and fried plates of same were frequent.

And there's this butterfly, which looks to be an Oregon Swallowtail.  We don't get many butterflies here, maybe nobody does.  But there's been a couple around this month.
BK photo.  copyright William Kowinski 2014

Speaking of Sports

The SF Giants and the Pittsburgh Pirates are in the playoff hunt probably for the rest of the season, although the Dodgers sweep in San Francisco may turn out to be a pivotal moment.  So far the only contender to make a move was SF, trading a very good minor league prospect for veteran pitcher Jake Peavy.  The Giants hope to repeat their success with down on their luck veteran starters (most recently Tim Hudson.)  Peavy was immediately thrown into the deep water Sunday with a start against the rival LA Dodgers, to try to stop the bleeding as the Dodgers knocked the Giants out of first place with two straight wins in San Francisco.  His outing was respectable in an otherwise weird and poorly played game, featuring bad calls and errors by another recently acquired veteran, Dan Uggla, whose fielding lived up to his name.  Peavy got the loss, 4-3.

Meanwhile the Pirates survived Coors Field in Colorado, salvaging one win out of three games.  On Sunday they finally scored runs and hit enough homers to take the Rockies 7-5.

 Both the Giants and Pirates have more away games than home games remaining (SF has 6 more away than home, Pirates 3) which is usually not good. But the Giants are a pretty good road team--their epic slump in June and July was mostly at home after a very good road trip.  They started after the break with a good road trip, and lost their first games back.

 The Pirates on the other hand are nearly invincible at home, and not so great away.  Another difference: the Giants this year prosper the most when they score early and hang on (although their bullpen has been an adventure lately.)  The Pirates come from behind a lot, which has been a characteristic of some great Pirate teams in the past.

  The Giants will contend with the Dodgers, and both those teams continue to be plagued by injuries to key players.  But in the just concluded home series, the injury depleted Giants were clearly outplayed by the injury depleted Dodgers. The Pirates are in a competitive chaos with three other teams, and they have several late season head-to-heads with the Reds and the Cardinals.  And coming up next week, the Giants and the Pirates play their last series against each other, in San Francisco.  So at least I'll be able to listen to those games on the radio.

NBA:  The LA Lakers have finally done something right: hired Byron Scott as their coach.  Scott is an experienced coach at a high level (the Lakers beat his Nets in the 2002 finals), he won championships as a key player for the Showtime Lakers (and had the support for coach of key members of that team like Magic Johnson, James Worthy and Michael Cooper), and he mentored a 17 year old rookie named Kobie Bryant, who also lobbied for him.

 Phil Jackson says that in the NBA today you need a dependable point guard and a big center.  The Lakers acquired point guard Jeremy Lin and sort of big man Carlos Boozer.  I wasn't a fan of Boozer's game and didn't see Lin much, but they're veterans without being over the hill overpaid fading stars, so it does suggest these Lakers could have a respectable number of wins with some exciting games.  Because I expect Kobie will be back with a vengeance.

Most of the ESPN analysts who know more about the league than I do, don't exactly agree--they believe the Lakers are in a terrible position, not good enough to contend but too good to qualify for the best draft picks.  The rebuilding however must begin with the credibility of the organization.  Having whiffed on acquiring Carmelo Anthony, let alone LeBron James suggests that players suspect the legendary LA organization is not what it was. It is the Buss boy who probably has to prove himself to the elite players in the league.  Hiring Byron Scott looks like a start.

Meanwhile across town the LA Clippers have a better team but are in deeper chaos because of the still ongoing Sterling/Silver affair.  Donald Sterling is tying things up in court but Clippers coach Doc Rivers added urgency to the situation by suggesting he won't return if Sterling is still the owner.  Star player Chris Paul has since said he might sit out the season for the same reason.  There's even the possibility that players on other teams will refuse to play, perhaps limiting that to refusing to play the Clippers.  So just letting this all drag out in the courts doesn't look like a good option.
Update: Or not!  A judge's ruling Monday seems to clear the way for the sale of the Clippers by mid-August.  It's not yet certain but looks more like resolution is near.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Thing With Feathers

As I remember it, it started out quietly.  A small group of scientists, or maybe just one, suggested that a remote ancestor of birds might be dinosaurs.  Dinos might even have been warm-blooded.

These days the warm or at least tepid-blooded dinosaur is a full blown theory with lots of evidence.  And the convinction that dinos and birds are related has been growing.  But I doubt if anybody predicted this.

On Friday the National Geographic online had this headline: Siberian Discovery Suggests Almost All Dinosaurs Were Feathered.

Yes, dinosaurs were the things with feathers.  First there were a few species discovered in China that definitely had lots of feathers.  But now: "This does mean that we can now be very confident that feathers weren't just an invention of birds and their closest relatives, but evolved much deeper in dinosaur history," he adds. "I think that the common ancestor of dinosaurs probably had feathers, and that all dinosaurs had some type of feather, just like all mammals have some type of hair."

Think about all those dinosaur models, all the books and dino toys that boys love.  How fierce and formidable they look, how warlike and ready for titanic battles, just like in the movies.

It's easy to overlook that most were vegetarians anyway.  But now they aren't plated, smooth hard-skinned streamlined for action huge roaring beasts.  They're fluffy.

The article goes on to say that this doesn't mean all the dinos were covered with feathers like birds.  They may have had just a bit of fluff here and there, especially the bigger ones.  But still.  The roaring towering dinosaur image is likely utterly shot.

Just why dinos had feathers is still a mystery. What exactly did all these different feathers do? "I don't know; nobody knows for sure," Godefroit says. "These animals couldn't fly, that's all we can tell you."

Man, feathers and they can't even fly and swoop down, or attack in formation or anything.  Maybe not so red in tooth in claw after all, that leaf-munching tyrannosaurus fluffy. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Internet Dystopia

Someone left behind a copy of Wired magazine at the Post Office, so I picked it up.  It's a big thick issue with a story headlined on the cover that sounded interesting.  I paged through it, while searching for the table of contents or at least the article, and I was amazed.  Ad after glossy ad, mostly for men's luxury products.  There were half a dozen ads just for high-end wristwatches.  So much advertising, and I never did find the table of contents or the article.  (This isn't the issue, but the cover says alot, especially in contrast to the cover below.)

I remember Wired when it was thin and new, publishing articles by Kevin Kelley about how the Internet was going to create an automatic egalitarian Utopia.  Now it resembles nothing so much as an issue of GQ in the 1980s.  Granted that this particular issue was an old one in the holiday gift-giving season.  But even so.

With the maturation of internet-related corporations, and all the money involved, comes the same sort of excesses as previous rich businesses, like the Google executive who took and overdose (or maybe poisoned) heroin provided by an unhappy hooker on his party boat.   Kind of doesn't fit the revolutionary image.

The most conspicuous difference on the net is the nature and amount of increasingly intrusive advertising.  I've been reading Josh Marshall's site since it was a one-person blog called Talking Point Memo at least a decade ago.  Since then he's been building it as a political news and opinion site, employing a number of others.  Recently he's been pumping up a membership model with extra access while the public site is so clotted with ads in the form of video, banners, and (clearly marked) faux news that the site takes forever to load on both the browsers I use.  Extra incentive to buy the membership I guess.  But the content has itself moved to the most politically sensational, finding every right wing outrage that's easy to describe in a paragraph.  It seems to be all about the eyeballs, but this particular combination of  predictable content and intrusive advertising is losing mine.  It's not a site I check every day anymore.

The struggle for viable economic models, mostly so far involving a geometric increase in advertising, is probably one reason nobody I know of talks about the internet Utopia anymore.  Even universal access to the internet is threatened by proposed new rules that will allow different tiers of service (though in fact, providers are already doing this.) The move from desktops to new devices with very pricey service fees is creating an internet for the well-to-do and nobody else. But it's worse than that--the internet threatens to become a dystopia.

It is already a dictatorship, when users have the choice of "agreeing" to various forms of spying if they want access and services at all.  There was a kerfuffle over a "study" done at Facebook that did more than study--it changed information on individual sites.  Today there's a story based on another study that uses Google accumulated data on searches to determine what Republicans and Democrats search for during extreme weather.  If that's not an actual First Amendment violation, it should be.  But it's business as usual on the internet, where information is what these companies have to sell.


Sunday, July 20, 2014

One Small Step

Forty-five years ago today, a human being first set foot on another world.  Some 600 million people on Earth were watching and listening as Neil Armstrong descended to the surface of the Moon from the Apollo 11 lunar lander, saying (in words slightly obscured by static) "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind."

Those of us who were alive and old enough usually remember where we were.  I was visiting Colorado, and had spent the afternoon in a car winding through the dry bare mountains near Denver, which seemed to me as desolate as a moonscape.  Kathi, the driver, and my girlfriend Joni were from Denver and we were seeing the sights, but I remember this landscape (and possibly the thin air that I wasn't used to) just made me despondent.

A few hours later we were in the basement rec room of Kathi's parents' house as we watched the ghostly image of Armstrong on the Moon.  I felt it--that I was watching in real time an extraordinary moment in human history.  At the same time, that indistinct black and white image was a little like watching Captain Video on an early black and white television set when I was five or six.

Years later the worlds of science fiction and factual history collided again at a Star Trek convention dinner.  I stopped to speak to Nichelle Nichols at a table in the darkened ballroom when she said she wanted to introduce me to someone. From the seat next to her up popped a man in a suit holding out his hand--it was Neil Armstrong.  I shook the hand of the first human to really touch another world.
Earlier in this 45th anniversary year, MIT Press published Marketing the Moon: The Selling of the Apollo Lunar Program by David Meerman Scott and Richard Jurek.  I liked everything about this book except the title, which suggests a conscious and coordinated campaign of hype and spin.  The book's contents tell a different story.  Though NASA and the major corporations involved in this titanic effort all had public relations and marketing people, NASA set the standard by insisting that the media be given full factual information.  There was plenty of hoopla surrounding the astronauts in particular, but a lot of that was generated by media responding to the burst of public interest that caught everyone by surprise.

As this book says (and other sources affirm), well into the 1950s the idea of rocketing humans into space was considered to be science fiction fantasy, believed only by children.  The Eisenhower administration itself was skeptical, though the U.S. government was confident that its plans to send a satellite into orbit as part of the 1957-8 International Geophysical Year would be the first such endeavor.

But early in the 50s, some magazine articles accompanied by dramatic cover art in Colliers plus the 3 Walt Disney programs beginning with "Man in Space" stirred some public interest.  Then came the shock of Soviet space firsts--the first satellite (Sputnik), the first live animal, the first man and the first woman in Earth orbit.  Humans in space was no longer a fantasy.

After a few disasters (including at least one on live TV), the U.S. Army and Navy succeeded in getting satellites up.  The civilian agency NASA was created, and suddenly the astronauts became heroic celebrities. After two sub-orbital flights, John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth.  Shortly afterwards, President John F. Kennedy issued his famous challenge: to land a man on the Moon and return him safely before the end of the 1960s.

After a string of successful one-person flights (the Mercury program) and two-person orbits mostly testing procedures and equipment for the moon shot (Gemini), the Apollo program began with an horrific tragedy: during a ground test, a fire aboard the crew capsule killed three astronauts, including the second American in space, Virgil Grissom.  After months of reappraisal and redesign, Apollo flights began and continued at a pretty rapid clip that kept the astronauts in the news and built to the moment of Apollo 11.

But for the next 6 Apollo flights, public interest dropped gradually and then precipitously.  "Few people alive on December 14, 1972, can tell you where they were on that day," this book notes.  But it was the day that the last humans to ever go there left the moon.  No one has been back since.

This book continues examining the coverage and marketing efforts after Apollo 11 and speculates on why interest dropped so far so fast.  Television coverage of the space program increased network news prestige--particularly CBS--but lost money, so after Armstrong it was cut back severely.  Other factors are suggested, notably that the goal of landing an American on the moon was basically Cold War competition with the Soviets, and after Apollo 11, it was game over, the home team won.

The authors also note how much else was going on to absorb public attention, and having lived through those years, that's certainly pertinent: the Vietnam war and associated actions in Southeast Asia, antiwar demonstrations, racial unrest, Kent State, the 1972 presidential campaign and the first Watergate stories were all happening between Apollo 11 and 17.

The book repeats assertions that the rise of the environmental movement in those years--partly inspired not at all ironically by the now iconic views of Earth in space, and the "earthrise" photos from the moon taken by Apollo astronauts--diverted attention from out there.

I recall all of these factors as at least partially true.  But there was also the relentless pace of U.S. space flights.  I saw them all on TV, from Explorer and Vanguard in 1958 through the Apollo shots more than a decade later.  I don't think people were totally fixated on the winning the space race aspect, but nobody could sustain excitement and the same keen interest for all those events.  Rockets to space were getting to be a regular thing.

Also, NASA had apparently concentrated so hard on getting humans to the Moon that they didn't come up with much for them to do there that was interesting, such as scientific exploration and experiments that could be communicated in an involving and exciting way.

This book does an admirable job of chronicling how NASA and the institutions involved got the information out, and how the media went about covering the stories.  There was a marketing concern, since it was felt that public interest would encourage Congress to keep funding the space program, but there were also concerns to keep commercialism from tainting the patriotic effort, leading to a shifting dance on what corporations could and couldn't do to publicize their part of the space program.  (Apart from major contractors, the winner on becoming identified with the astronauts was clearly Tang.  If you were there, you know what I'm talking about.)

This is a large format "coffee-table" book with lots of photos and sidebars.  Written by two public relations professionals, it not only tells the public information story but features enough documentary information (including transcripts of key Apollo moments) to be a good resource on the space program itself.  It seems to fulfill the NASA ideal of being as objective and complete as possible.  Though this was supposedly the Mad Men era, this book affirms that there really was a feeling of common purpose that permeated the space program and extended to the media.  The story of humans in space, of humanity on the Moon, was so powerful and inspiring that it often overrode selfishness and spin.

Today we know how many things went wrong as the Eagle was trying to land on July 20, 1969.  But somehow it did land, and that moment inspires awe even today.  Perhaps even more so, since such a voyage has returned to the realm of fantasy, only with better visual effects.